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FULL TEXT: Bill Gates address to the National Assembly

Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at the National Assembly on Tuesday morning. (Yonhap)
Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at the National Assembly on Tuesday morning. (Yonhap)

The following is a text version of the address given by Bill Gates to South Korea’s National Assembly on Tuesday, transcribed and loosely edited by The Korea Herald for clarity. -- Ed.



It’s a great honor to be here. Thank you Speaker Kim (Jin-pyo) and all the members of the National Assembly for your invitation.

During my trip to the Republic of Korea, one highlight is that I’ll sign a memorandum of understanding with the government to outline our work together on global health security, improvements in health equity and continue the fight against infectious diseases in all countries.

This is a crisis moment for global health, so this is also a fantastic time for our foundation to strengthen the partnership here with Korea, providing great ideas for new tools and more resources to help those most in need.

It’s important to reflect on the incredible success of global health this century until the pandemic hit. Of course, Korea understands this very well because over the last 70 years, with a little bit of help from foreign aid donors and incredible hard work and creativity, you transformed your postwar economy into a powerhouse in very short time.

Now governments look to Korea for ideas on how to change the future of their people, and now Korea gives aids to help dozens of countries to start the same journey of progress.

As you increase that generosity, to match your economic success as the 10th-largest economy, you will be able to have an incredible impact particularly with partnerships like with our foundation and multilateral global health organizations.

The journey since year 2000 is an amazing one. The United Nations set Millennium Development Goals, and one of those was to reduce the number of children who die before the age of 5. That was an incredible success going from over 10 million children dying every year to now under 5 million. The key to that was these multilateral global health initiatives.

This is a lot like what happened with Korea from the 1950s to the 1980s. It’s the result of building new organizations like the Global Fund that helps fight HIV, TB (tuberculosis) and malaria. Before the Global Fund was created in 2002, those three epidemics were raging out of control. And since then, the Global Fund has saved over 44 million lives. Think of that -- it’s almost like saving every person in Korea.

Setting up this fund and having it constantly improve over the last 20 years is one of the most generous things human beings have ever done for each other. Next month in New York, the United Nations is hosting a replenishment for the Global Fund. And I’m optimistic that the world will again come together to save even more lives.

There are two other extremely important multilateral health initiatives which many countries and our foundation are strong supporters of. CEPI stands for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (Innovations), and it helped develop the COVID vaccines that have allowed the pandemic to come under control.

It’s also developing, in some cases in partnership with South Korean companies, other new tools -- a vaccine that will be very broad and cover all coronaviruses, a vaccine that will block infection and tools that would stop the pandemic in its early stage.

Another important organization, Gavi, the vaccine alliance, has provided resources to immunize over a billion children, and over the last two years it delivered over a billion COVID-19 vaccines. Again, an organization that saved tens of millions of lives; saving those lives for very, very little money.

In the world of generosity, these multilateral health organizations are by far the most impactful. By working together, we can bring all the expertise and planning to make sure these resources are used effectively, including taking advantage of new R&D.

The pandemic reminded us not did only that we care about other people and their suffering, but also that we’re all connected. A single infection anywhere in the world, without the right capabilities, can spread to the entire world. It’s almost like a fire, but a fire that doesn’t stop at the edge of a city or a country. It goes to the entire globe.

We also see that this effect on the global economy is terrible, and the effect on stability, and so many things are set back. Our health results in all diseases have been set back substantially by the pandemic.

So we have a job to do. We need to end this pandemic and prevent it from happening again. My last book, “Preventing the Next Pandemic,” outlines the policies that can make sure this never happens again. This includes enhancing our global surveillance, having what I call “Germ team” -- 3,000 people to track things and stop outbreaks before they become pandemics.

Another job is to restore the progress of improving global health. Last year, more than 25 million children didn’t get their basic vaccines, and testing for HIV and TB dropped by about 20 percent.

Of course, the setbacks could have been worse. Global partners have shown creativity and generosity to keep the backsliding to a minimum. And now, as all countries look at their generosity, to groups like CEPI and Global Fund, we have a chance to show we remain committed.

Korea is poised to be a leader in this work. Not only as you raise your aid generosity to match being one of the top 10 (biggest economies) in the world, you also have particular strengths: incredible vaccine manufacturing, incredible diagnostic manufacturing, R&D capabilities, diagnostic capabilities. In fact, Korea is one of the only countries that actually sells more to these global health multilaterals than the total donation. And it’s been fantastic to see the step up, the commitment to act, with hundreds of millions of dollars of commitment to COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility).

We do have a challenge that the Disease Eradication Fund, which has been a source of support for global health initiatives, simply won’t scale up -- particularly because of the flight reductions -- to meet these needs to have Korea at the level in these organizations that its success implies.

So there’s a lot we need to do together. We need to reach deep. We need to build more partnerships. We need to encourage the best scientists.

But I’m confident that with these steps we can continue to radically improve global health -- to cut the number of children who die in half again, to eradicate diseases like polio, measles and malaria, improve the lives of all humans. It’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. And I look forward to doing it in partnership. Thank you.
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